SANTA MONICA, California — When Stephenie Meyer originally conceived of her “Twilight” universe, it’s highly unlikely that she was inspired by spider monkeys, Channing Tatum and the cowboys from “Brokeback Mountain.” But for this week’s “Twilight” Tuesday, screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg stopped by the MTV News offices to remind us of the personality quirks that have crept into the Cullens — and the collaborative process necessary for turning a best-selling novel into a hit Hollywood movie.
The veteran writer/producer behind hits both twisted (“Dexter”) and teen-friendly (“The O.C.,” “Step Up”), Rosenberg comes across in person as a smart, eager-to-please writer who is genuinely proud to have earned the Meyer seal of approval. In this exclusive interview about her screenplay for the film that finally hits theaters November 21 (as if you needed reminding), Rosenberg gave us a revealing peek at several new scenes and characters, the film’s “forward-thinking” ending, and the surprising reasons why we’ll soon be seeing an Edward who wishes he knew how to quit Bella. (Find out what Robert Pattinson and Kellan Lutz think about the new “Twilight” flashback scenes they just shot here . And check out the results of the TwilightMoms’ “Clean House” contest in the MTV Movies blog.)
MTV: The “Twilight” fanbase is beloved for their enthusiasm. What kind of craziness have you witnessed since you took on the gig?
Melissa Rosenberg: I went to my niece’s bat mitzvah recently out in Tucson [Arizona]. It was a very small ceremony and a very small group of people. She’s 13, and she had a couple of her friends there … and she mentioned to them, “Oh, this is my Aunt Melissa and she wrote ‘Twilight.’ ” Suddenly I had these just fantastic girls [saying], “Oh my God!” They were just thrilled and asked for my autograph on a napkin!
MTV: What kind of questions did they have?
Rosenberg: Well, I don’t think that they really understood what a screenwriter does, and I tried to explain it. They were like, “Didn’t you just shoot the book?” And I said, “No, well, I had to make scenes up,” but they didn’t care. My name and “Twilight” were in the same sentence, so they had to have an autograph.
MTV: I look at your filmography, and obviously the two things that jump out are “Step Up” and the serial-killer drama “Dexter.” Where does “Twilight” fit into these very diverse universes?
Rosenberg: “Twilight” is right in the middle of “Step Up” and “Dexter.” It has the romance and the relationship of “Step Up” and the desire that’s in “Step Up,” but it also has the darkness and eeriness of “Dexter.” … “Dexter” really helped a lot for me — having been in a fairly dark place with “Dexter,” it’s easy to translate over. But the romance of “Twilight” is pure.
MTV: So Edward’s not going to be chopping up bodies and keeping them in his fridge?
Rosenberg: [Laughs.] No, no. Edward’s not a serial killer.
MTV: But Dexter does similarly deal with having a hunger — trying to suppress it at times but giving into it when he needs that power.
Rosenberg: Absolutely. Dexter has what he calls a “dark passenger.” It’s this urge, this need, this hunger for blood — and so does Edward. Edward just has a better hold on it. [Laughs.] Edward can rein it in more. What’s also true is that both Dexter and Edward are constantly exploring issues of humanity and what it is to be human and envying humans. Dexter is very much like an alien set on the planet to learn about humanity, because he himself is disassociated and doesn’t have the normal human experiences. He has made a life of studying humans so he can pass as a human. Well, so is Edward. Edward is trying to pass as a human, and it’s been so long [since] he’s been a human that he’s constantly marveling at it.
MTV: I would think the greatest challenge for you was to portray a romance that “Twilight” fans consider to be so powerful and epic. Where did you go for inspiration?
Rosenberg: Well, “Romeo and Juliet” is an obvious comparison. I discovered [after reading “Twilight” that Meyer] uses “Romeo and Juliet” quite heavily in “New Moon.” And this is going to sound a little crazy, but “Brokeback Mountain” was a great model of forbidden love.
MTV: So when it came time to portray the Edward/Bella romance, you thought about Heath and Jake?
Rosenberg: Well, “Brokeback Mountain” for two reasons: One, the short story [that was the basis] for “Brokeback Mountain” is beautiful, pure, very small — 20 or 40 pages — and the writers of “Brokeback Mountain” [the movie] would take one sentence, one four-word sentence, and it would become a story line. It would become a character. It was such a beautiful adaptation. I learned a great deal from reading that book and then watching the movie. It taught me a lot about adapting. But I had the opposite challenge with “Twilight” than they had with “Brokeback” — with “Brokeback,” they had to let it grow and breathe. I had to condense a great deal. For instance, with the James character and the evil vampires — taking what is really only the last 25 percent of the [novel] and bringing it forward. There were a couple moments like that where you go, “OK, wait a minute, [Meyer] is just suggesting this. But let’s let it play.”
MTV: But as far as the Edward/Bella romance is concerned, you see similarities to the “Brokeback” relationship?
Rosenberg: Yeah, it was just so poignant, and the forbidden-love element, that you have this deep yearning and passion and yet you have to keep it secret — to want to be with each other and to have to stay away on some level. So “Brokeback,” for me, was a great model for how to structure the romance in the story.
MTV: Can you give us an example of something that wasn’t in the book but you wanted to work into the script?
Rosenberg: Initially, I thought the world of the book is very much in the Pacific Northwest. It’s a very dense, misty, wet area, very eerie and really evocative of a mood. So I thought, “Well, let’s just start the movie right there. Let’s begin in this world.” But then [I met with] Stephenie, and she started talking about Scottsdale [Arizona], which is where she lives and where she grew up. You’re surrounded by these very perfect, very beautiful, very wealthy people, and when you’re just a normal girl, you feel inadequate in comparison. That’s such a cornerstone in her character. … When Stephenie talked about being in Scottsdale and being raised there, and her feelings of never quite measuring up to these gorgeous, blond, usually plastic-surgery people, she really captured for me the essence of Bella. So we decided that we absolutely had to start with Bella in Scottsdale. This is where we first meet her and see her next to the gorgeous neighbor. And to see her tripping off a stair right away established that character of Bella as that sort of awkward, very normal teenage girl, and [the audience will] fall in love with her for that.
MTV: Wow, very different from the novel. Now, having read “Twilight,” we’d also expect Kristen Stewart to spend quite a bit of time in the voice-over booth. Did your script give Bella more or less narrative duties?
Rosenberg: Actually, there’s not a lot of voice-over. … As we went forward, we realized we needed less, and we started pulling out voice-over. The challenge of adapting the book is indeed that it is very internal. … It was all about getting those conversations that are in her head, getting them out or seeing them. For instance, Bella’s feeling awkward about dance — there’s a lot of conversation about that, a lot of her talking about how awkward she feels. But to be able to see that in a scene in which Edward asks her to dance and she refuses, I [needed] to actually get that out there and say it.
MTV: The Cullens are described in the novels as being godlike. Is that hard to write?
Rosenberg: Well, we wanted to [depict] Edward’s agility and strength, so we created scenes in which he grabs Bella and jumps out a window or he catches an apple that rolls off the table and hands it back to her. [I was] trying to find ways in which to show the different Cullens’ abilities and strengths.
MTV: Do we learn more about the evil vampires in the film?
Rosenberg: The evil vampires: James, Victoria and Laurent. They show up in the last quarter of the book, but they’ve been around. Where were they before they got there? So Stephenie handed me these great villains, and I just took them and peppered them in. … We learn about James and Victoria’s relationship a little bit more, because they are soul mates, which becomes important later on. The objective was to fill them out. They’re hungry. Their motivation is they’re hungry and they like blood, and they like Bella’s blood in particular. It smells very good. James’ motivation, of course, is he loves the challenge and is presented with the perfect challenge. That’s something Stephenie created, and I absolutely ran with it.
MTV: How do you get into the heads of the various characters?
Rosenberg: The fun of writing is that, in my mind, I get to play Charlie, I get to play Renee, I get to play Bella and Eric and all of them — I get to be that 17-year-old kid like Eric, who is trying to be that mover and shaker of the group. Eric is a compilation of a couple of different human characters. We had to cut down on some of the characters, and we didn’t want to cut down on any of the Cullens, so we did have to combine a couple of the human characters. We kind of reinvented him a little bit and made him this sort of very quippy, funny character.
MTV: Which characters does he combine?
Rosenberg: I can’t really say. The script and the book have become one to me. I can’t remember where the book begins and where the script ends.
MTV: But Eric is a school friend with Bella?
Rosenberg: Yeah, there is actually a character in the book whose name is Eric. Jessica is a combination of Jessica and Lauren. Angela is still Angela, and Mike Newton is still Mike Newton, and Eric combines a couple of the human kids. … Eric, he was a very smart, very funny guy, and we made him the head of the school newspaper and Angela the photographer. There’s a lot of conversations you can have because of that. You can get how shy and awkward Bella is and how uncomfortable she is when Eric and Angela want to interview her for the newspaper.
MTV: Are there any lines of dialogue that make you particularly proud?
Rosenberg: Well, I can tell you this: “Spider monkey,” I believe, comes from Rob Pattinson. [Editor’s note: Rosenberg has since learned that it was director Catherine Hardwicke who suggested the line to Pattinson.] I didn’t actually write “spider monkey.”
MTV: Really? Because the fans already love that line in the clips we’ve seen when Edward tells Bella, “You better hold on tight, spider monkey!”
Rosenberg: That was an improv.
MTV: So is that one of the things where a screenwriter sees the movie and says, “Sweet improv!” Or do you go, “He ruined my script! ‘Spider monkey’ is not accurate!”
Rosenberg: [Laughs.] Well, what I should say is, “I came up with spider monkey on my own. I wrote that.”
MTV: Someday that could be the new “This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship” — or something like that.
MTV: Does the “Twilight” movie end cleanly, or does it hint that there’s more to come?
Rosenberg: There’s a forward-thinking moment in the end. I shouldn’t tell you what it is, though.
MTV: Well, we don’t want to ruin the ending, we just want to know if there’s something juicy in there.
Rosenberg: There’s something that suggests there’s more to come.
Every Tuesday is “Twilight” Tuesday here at MTV News! Check back here each and every week for the hottest scoop on the film adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s beloved vampire series, and we’ll still bring you breaking “Twilight” news throughout the rest of the week. And make sure you check out the MTV Movies Blog for our ongoing “Twilight” discussions each and every day.
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